The other day, someone bemoaned the incredibly obvious (and yet not at all) to me: why isn’t writing a book easier once you’ve done it a few times? I snarkily said, it would be easy enough if we kept writing the same book over and over. But what fun would that be?
The fact is that every book is new and different and each one requires us to start from scratch and build it fresh. Sure, we can practice the craft, but it’s not like a recipe that you can repeat again and again with the same good results. We have the same kinds of ingredients–plot, character, foreshadowing, worldbuilding, dialog and so forth. But they aren’t EXACTLY the same, and we don’t mix them the same. Plus we do it with our eyes closed, standing on our heads in a hurricane.
I think that’s why beginning a book can be so frightening and why you can get halfway in and wonder if you should be writing at all. What were you thinking? How could you ever be a writer?
Ironically, while finishing a previous book can give you courage and faith that you can indeed complete a novel, it can also undermine your confidence by sitting there and taunting: You one trick pony! You boring hack! You only had one novel in you! Ha! I suck and you suck too! Go get a job cleaning toilets–you’re better at that! The variety of taunts is quite endless actually. Books can be very mean.
Writers pretend that they have control. We frequently have regular habits or rituals to get us going every day. Some plot, some take copious notes, some have the entire thing worked out in their heads, some draw flow charts, some do notecards, some sharpen a dozen pencils and write for regimented periods . . . Again, endless possibilities because every writer is neurotically different in his or her own way. I’m a desk straightener. *looks around desk* sort of. With limited results.
Sadly, for most of us, those habits and rituals are only illusions of control. The real fact is that every book is brand new and experience writing doesn’t always or even often help. There’s never any telling what it will do or how you will write it. That’s part of the excitement and fun of writing. It’s also the terrifying part. What if it doesn’t work? Part of you will know it’s just words, just pixels, just graphite and paper, or ink and paper, but part of you knows it’s also EVERYTHING that matters. You won’t know until you finish, and sometimes you doubt that will ever happen.
When I was writing my dissertation, I remember thinking I was a mouse trying to eat an Everest-sized hunk of cheese. Daunting didn’t begin to cover it. All I could do was eat one bite at a time and try not to think about what I was trying to accomplish. That’s how I treat all my writing now. Put my head down, keep going, and don’t look at how far I have or think about how awful it probably all is, or whether it’s broken and unfixable. I Just. Keep. Going.
Get it done any way you can. Just get it done. Just because you’ve written a book before, it before doesn’t mean you know how to do it this time. All you can do is write it and hope it turns out well–not even the way you planned it, because plans go to hell faster than pedophiles and rapists, and they go pretty damned quick.
That’s it. That’s the truth about writing books. Now. Go get it done.